Editor’s note: This story is part of a series about Oklahomans who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read the stories of other Oklahomans here. Have you lost a loved one to COVID-19? Help us tell their story.
Kathy Cronemiller had a heart for children but she also recognized the needs of parents, especially those who lacked access to affordable high-quality care.
“The retail industry has changed,” Cronemiller said during a 2017 interview as she explained why she saw the need to open a childcare center that was open 24 hours a day.
“It used to be stores were open from like 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but now malls and places like Target open at 8 a.m. and are closing at 10 p.m. We have more and more workers who are making choices to take those jobs.”
Among the seven preschools she owned in central Oklahoma, two offered around-the clock care that was especially attractive to parents working in retail, hospitality and warehouses that did not stick to a 9- to- 5 schedule.
But more than a childcare entrepreneur, Cronemiller was also one of the most vocal advocates for quality child care policies in the state. She served on several boards and regularly took her voice to the Oklahoma Capitol.
“She was a tireless and passionate advocate for early childhood development and high quality child care investment,” said Linda Manaugh, a communication and program support director at the Potts Family Foundation, a nonprofit with a focus on early childcare.
Cronemiller died from Covid-19 complications on Christmas Eve, 2020 She had been in a coma for three-months before her death and breathed with the assistance of a ventilator. Cronemiller was 64.
“The last memory I have of her with my daughters and everybody, real good memories, is her talking to us and telling us she loved us through the window and she spelling out ‘I love you’ with her hands,” said Lynn Cronemiller, Kathy’s husband of 37 years, who told News 4 he was holding his wife’s hand when she died at a Fort Worth hospital.
Cronemiller opened her first childcare center in 1984 in Midwest City. She grew the business to six sites by 2007.
She also served on the boards of the Oklahoma Child Care Association, the National Child Care Association, the Oklahoma County Board of Governors and the OKDHS Child Care Advisory Board.
Cronemiller was also a Disney enthusiast, a passion many of her friends and family honored by wearing Disney apparel on March 11, which would have been her 65th birthday.
“It will forever be our official Disney Day at Child Care Inc.,” said Rachel Erwin-Proper, Kathy’s daughter.
After her death, Kathy’s Facebook feed filled with comments from former employees, fellow advocates, parents and children who she once cared for. Some of those children grew up to work for her at one of her childcare centers.
Cronemiller also left a legacy with her work in helping to launch the Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness, a state program that monitors early childhood development in an effort to inform policy decisions.
“We lost a real amazing woman,” Manaugh said. “She was always advocating for families and that impact is going to be felt for a very long time.”